Vocabulary Jigsaw

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Jan
  • 04
  • 2007

This is an interesting technique, something I picked up from the QTEL training I’ve been to. I’m using it to review vocabulary, but I’ve also seen it used as a way to introduce major themes of a piece of literature. It could be used to review historical figures, elements from the periodic table, mathematical concepts, drawing techniques, words in another language, and lots of other things.

The teacher creates four lists based on a set of words being studied. Each list has a different clue to tell students what the words are. There’s a list telling:

  1. the first letter in the word;
  2. the last letter in the word;
  3. the number of syllables in the word;
  4. the definition of the word.

(I could see a list of synonyms and a list of antonyms worked in there, perhaps in place of the definition and syllable count lists. Any other ideas of clues that can be given?)

Pass those lists out at random. Though QTEL never mentioned it, I tell students that they should hold onto their list at all times and that they shouldn’t let anyone see their list, that they will have to read the lists to others. Then students get up and form groups where all four lists are represented, figuring out the words.

Increased familiarity with vocabulary isn’t a bad thing. We have 100 words for this semester and I’m using this as a review for the next several days. I just pick words, fill out my Excel sheet with the proper letters, numbers, and definitions, print 8 copies of it (because all 4 lists fit onto one sheet of paper), cut it up, and pass it out. I figure it won’t benefit the students at all to keep their one list, so I collect the lists so I can use them next period.

It’s a really quick way to have students thinking about the words we’ve studied. And I should be able to crank these out over the next few days so we consistently play with vocabulary this way. Their vocab final is just around the corner, so we’ll be doing some flashcard work, too.


1. mrc says:

[1/4/2007 - 5:22 pm]

Is this at the high school level? Are your students actually willing to play the game and figure out the words? Do you find that the definition list drives the answers and the other lists are just used as confirmation?

2. Todd says:

[1/4/2007 - 9:10 pm]

Yup, at the high school level. The kids are perfectly willing to do this. It often ends with little sighs of “well, that was fun…” Actually, this works much better than you might think. I think my rules (the list never leaves your hand, only you can read your list) help.

All four lists are put to good use. I haven’t seen the definition list driving the answers, but they’d certainly be lost without that list. The syllable count list could likely afford to go away, but it offers confirmation just as much as the other three lists. I didn’t think this idea would work, but decided to put it to the test based on a recommendation from a friend. I am, frankly, shocked at how well this gets the kids focused on the vocab and how it challenges them. It takes them about 10 minutes to get 10 words.

3. walaa says:

[5/20/2007 - 2:13 pm]

May I ask you to help me by sending me some studies about jigsaw in reading English?

4. Todd says:

[5/20/2007 - 10:24 pm]

Not quite sure what you’re looking for, walaa. Do you mean about how jigsaws operate or the efficacy of them? Do you just want a run down of how to make something like this work for whatever you’re doing? Send me an email and I’ll see if I can help you out if you don’t want to get into it here. Otherwise, post a comment back and let’s figure this out.

5. JasonP / InnerEd says:

[10/11/2009 - 5:39 am]


How would you use this to introduce themes in literature?

6. Todd says:

[10/11/2009 - 2:00 pm]

Again, not really sure what you’re asking for, Jason. This doesn’t seem like an ideal activity to introduce themes so that’s not what I would use this for at this point. But maybe you see this a different way than I do. Can you explain how you see this connecting to theme?

Do you have a list of themes you want students to think about or are you trying to introduce the concept of theme? Same offer I made walaa: send me an email or post a follow up comment here and we’ll work out what you need.

7. Anonymous says:

[1/12/2012 - 10:04 am]

Student c sheet could possible clarify common misconceptions before student D gives the definition. Student B could give the final letter in the word.

8. Lori says:

[7/26/2012 - 9:49 am]

I love this activity and use it all the time, first with junior high students, and now at the high school level. For students with very little English, I substitute pictures for the D clue. To mix it up, I’ve also done “this word has ___ letters,” instead of giving the last letter, or made a fill in the blank sentence instead of the definition.

I usually make the clues so that they build, the A clue being the least helpful, the D clue being the most specific, and I tell students they can’t guess the word untl all clues have been read. To diffrentiate, I’ll also give the easiest clues to read to the beginners.

Great activity.

9. subhan says:

[1/8/2014 - 10:11 pm]

can anyone you explain to me, how to use jigsaw in term of teaching irregular and regular verbs? please i need your arguments, it’S for my thesis.

10. 2015-01-28 14:19:35 -0800 says:

[2/12/2015 - 3:40 pm]

What are the benefits and disadvantages of keeping each item?